Single-atom and single-electron transistors

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and their colleagues at the University of Maryland have developed a step-by-step recipe to produce the atomic-scale devices.

Using these instructions, the NIST-led team has become only the second in the world to construct a single-atom transistor and the first to fabricate a series of single electron transistors with atom-scale control over the devices’ geometry.

The scientists demonstrated that they could precisely adjust the rate at which individual electrons flow through a physical gap or electrical barrier in their transistor—even though classical physics would forbid the electrons from doing so because they lack enough energy. That strictly quantum phenomenon, known as quantum tunneling, only becomes important when gaps are extremely tiny, such as in the miniature transistors. Precise control over quantum tunneling is key because it enables the transistors to become “entangled” or interlinked in a way only possible through quantum mechanics and opens new possibilities for creating qubits that could be used in quantum computing.

To fabricate single-atom and few-atom transistors, the team relied on a known technique in which a silicon chip is covered with a layer of hydrogen atoms, which readily bind to silicon. The fine tip of a scanning tunneling microscope then removed hydrogen atoms at selected sites. The remaining hydrogen acted as a barrier so that when the team directed phosphine gas (PH3) at the silicon surface, individual PH3 molecules attached only to the locations where the hydrogen had been removed (see animation). The researchers then heated the silicon surface. The heat ejected hydrogen atoms from the PH3and caused the phosphorus atom that was left behind to embed itself in the surface. With additional processing, bound phosphorous atoms created the foundation of a series of highly stable single- or few-atom devices that have the potential to serve as qubits. (Phys.org)

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